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Arroyo's debut is on the ball

Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo is not part of tonight's All-Star Game, but he assembled another kind of all-star team for a surprisingly solid debut CD, ''Covering the Bases," released today.

Arroyo is pictured at Fenway Park on the front of the album, but he recorded it mainly in Los Angeles with a powerhouse studio band including electric guitarist Michael Landau (Warren Zevon, James Taylor), acoustic guitarist Tim Pierce (Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen), bassist Leland Sklar (Taylor, Nils Lofgren), bassist Mike Inez (Alice in Chains), and drummer Kenny Aronoff (John Mellencamp, Smashing Pumpkins).

Together, they could probably make many of us sound decent, but Arroyo keeps up with them with impressive baritone vocals. He's no lightweight. What could've been just a vanity project ends up being a rewarding listening experience because of the overall chemistry. And many of the guest artists, including Inez, Aronoff, and Amy Keys (Tears for Fears) will back him tomorrow at a CD release party at Avalon. Novelist Stephen King, who has a spoken-word cameo on Arroyo's album, was also invited to perform.

The album is made up of covers of songs by grunge-era acts Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, and Foo Fighters, as well as alt-rock tunes by the Verve Pipe, Incubus, and Toad the Wet Sprocket. Arroyo offers commentary on each track, often noting he learned the songs while playing in various minor-league towns on the way to Boston.

The musical arrangements are sometimes rote but are modified enough to make it interesting. Keys's soaring harmonies add a different flavor to Temple of the Dog's ''Hunger Strike." And on unofficial Red Sox theme ''Dirty Water" by the Standells, players Johnny Damon, Kevin Youkilis, and Lenny DiNardo add harmonies and shout-outs to local watering holes such as Whiskey Park, the Rack, and Avalon.

But Arroyo holds it all together. When he performed at the Sox-related ''Hot Stove, Cool Music" show at the Paradise last winter, he seemed somewhat tentative, but he rocks soulfully on the album, especially on Pearl Jam's ''Black" and Stone Temple Pilots' ''Plush," which he learned as a 15-year-old kid. Arroyo is grown up now, but he still has the spirit of a teenager on these well-produced, finely executed tracks.

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